Clocks change on Sunday and drivers should beware of wildlife on roads
Utah's wildlife is on the move this month. The Department of Wildlife Resources warns motorists that collisions are common due to yearly winter migration and clocks falling back to standard time.
There are an estimated 300,000 mule deer in Utah. They'll typically move 70 to 80 miles during migration, often crossing busy roads or highways. According to a 2019 study contracted by the DWR, Wasatch Back roads include five of the state's ten most deadly wildlife collision areas.
DWR Wildlife Migration Initiative Coordinator Daniel Olson said it's vital that people understand wildlife behavior. Sometimes they pop out of nowhere, and drivers have to make a split-second decision about what to do.
"These animals have to often move long distances, and they're motivated to move. So, if you see a group of animals standing on the side of the road, they're likely trying to cross the road. They're not just standing there, so be aware that if you see animals, they're trying to get across the highway. They're motivated to do that. So, make sure you slow down and do what you need to do to avoid collision there. It's often better to hit a deer than it is to swerve and get in a head-on collision or go off the road and cause a rollover."
Olson said October and November are the big migration months in Utah. He said wildlife must make long migratory movements to survive. The combination of the time change, the mating season, and winter migration make for a spike in collisions.
"Often, they're moving at the twilight hours, so really early in the morning and the evening. That time period is often when it's hardest to see them. Your headlights don't work great that time of night, and then there's not enough daylight to see clearly. The time change that lines up with the commute times--we have more cars on the road and at a time when we have lots of wildlife moving and the time of day—is a recipe for wildlife-vehicle collisions.”
The migration initiative uses GPS tracking devices to gather data and document wildlife movements. Olson's data is used for municipal planning purposes too. By using their data, developers and communities can define best practices for protecting wildlife corridors.
"A lot of times, it's a grassroots effort, but we're trying to convert the data that we collect, the DWR on how wildlife moves, into visual items that are easy for people to understand. So, we create a heat map type of things that show areas where many animals are moving. So, color-coded maps that show where these corridors are at help people understand. We also can create animations. So, we have mapping tools, where we can show multiple deer on their migratory paths through areas."
Summit County-based Save People Save Wildlife representative Erin Ferguson told KPCW that SPSW is working with the DWR and Utah Department of Transportation to put solutions in place for SR 224. It is an elk migration corridor and one of the hot spots identified in the collision study.